2021 Program

October 29, 2021

1:00-2:30pmAxinn 229
Panel 1AWomen Gaining STEAM: Lightning Panel
Chair: Jessica C. Teets, Associate Professor, Political Science
Allison Jacobel, Assistant Professor, GeologySea Change: Paleoceanographic reconstructions for climate prediction   
The oceans are threatened by climate change, and understanding how they will respond to higher CO2 levels has never been more important. Past changes in the ocean’s carbon cycle can provide data to check and improve models that help us predict future changes. These data can also help us ‘balance’ Earth’s carbon budget by showing where and how much carbon was stored in the ocean at times when the Earth has been much colder. This talk provides an introduction to the tools and techniques Prof. Jacobel and her students use in their research, and the specific paleoceanographic questions they are working to answer at Middlebury. This talk focuses specifically on how the geochemical signatures encoded in the shells of calcareous microfossils estimate carbon storage, quantify climate sensitivity, and improve our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere. 
Alexis M. Mychajliw, Assistant Professor, Biology and Environmental StudiesCultural resilience & shifting ecological baselines of the N. American fur trade
A fundamental goal of conservation biology is to reach a state of recovery. Yet while the New England – Gulf of Maine region of the northeastern United States is approaching forest cover not seen since ~1700 CE, an overlooked component of this recovery is the relaxation of trapping pressure following the end of the North American fur trade (16-19th centuries). Rapid colonial exploitation dramatically altered the abundance of furbearing mammal species and likely diverged from millennial-scale harvest practices of Indigenous peoples; these coupled harvest histories form the deep but underappreciated roots of present-day North American landscapes. How can these ecosystems be considered truly recovering if they are missing critical ecological engineers and cultural interactions? We focus on furbearing mammals with diverse ecological roles and cultural meanings: two species of minks (Neovision sp.), muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), and beavers (Castor canadensis). These species span the spectrum of potential responses to human impacts: some, like the sea mink (N. macrodon), disappeared entirely; others, like the beaver, have returned with assistance, and others still, the American mink (N. vison), are thriving and spreading widely. We integrate archaeological, historical, and modern datasets to evaluate the legacies of the fur trade situated at the nexus of evolving relationships between humans and landscapes in North America. Gauging the true significance of these recovery events is only possible through application of a deeper temporal lens and collaboration between scientists, practitioners, and community stakeholders.
Kate Crawford, Assistant Professor, Environmental StudiesSpeed might be risky, but not for the obvious reasons    
Understanding how people impact the environment and, in turn, how our environment impacts human health is central to the field of environmental health. Chemical compounds designed and manufactured for use in the products we surround ourselves with offer an interesting lens through which to consider this reciprocal relationship. Anthropogenic chemicals are often popularized in commerce because of their favorable properties, such as water repellency or fire suppression. Yet, these same chemicals may pose risks to human health, calling their benefits to society into question. One example is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals which are widely used in water and stain repellent applications, such as nonstick cookware, stain resistant upholstery and carpeting, and waterproof cosmetics and outdoor gear. PFAS have been linked to numerous adverse health effects in humans, including cardiometabolic disease, endocrine disruption, immune suppression, and cancer. One surprising and understudied application of PFAS is their use in ski and snowboard wax, which has important implications for Vermont’s winter tourist economy. Through ongoing research, I am evaluating waxing behaviors among U.S. skiers and snowboarders to understand potential PFAS exposure among this population. Knowledge of the frequency and magnitude of these exposures offers important opportunities for intervention on current occupational and recreational waxing practices to reduce PFAS exposure moving forward.
Jen Crodelle Assistant Professor, MathematicsMathematical modeling of neuronal networks 
Mathematical modeling is a valuable tool for uncovering unexpected features of complicated biological systems. In particular, since connectivity among neurons in brain networks is difficult to measure experimentally, mathematical modeling of the communication among neurons is especially useful. This talk will introduce techniques of mathematical modeling in neuroscience, and focus on a current project involving networks of neurons in the developing visual cortex, an area of the brain responsible for  receiving and interpreting visual stimuli. Specifically, experiments show that certain neurons during development are coupled by an electrical connection called a gap junction during the first postnatal week, while other types of connections (synapses) have not yet been formed. If this gap junction is blocked, important properties of the network in the adult brain are absent. This talk will introduce a mathematical model to replicate the experimental results and propose a functional role for these gap junctions during development.
Gina Thomas, Assistant Professor, PsychologyEmbracing Solitude: Testing the Efficacy of Solitude Skills to Reduce Loneliness & Promote Well-Being
Decades ago, Winnicott (1958) proposed that a capacity for solitude is a sign of emotional health, and now a recent and growing body of literature has begun to distinguish positive solitude from states of loneliness. Over the past year, my lab students and I have investigated claims that benefiting from time alone may depend on solitude skills. Study 1) Drawing on a set of eight solitude skills identified in non-lonely adults who enjoy time alone (Thomas, 2021), narratives of 43 young adults describing their solitude experiences were qualitatively coded and then scored on the presence and strength of each skill. Scores were positively correlated with self-determined motivation for solitude [r(41) = .308, (p<.05)], and had no relationship with loneliness. Study 2) A quasi-experimental study was designed to test whether practicing these solitude skills can increase enjoyment of time alone and promote well-being. Preliminary results from a pilot study with Middlebury College students indicated that the experimental group (n=11) found the six-week psycho-education program very beneficial (m=4.2 on a 5 point scale); analyses comparing psychological adjustment outcomes with a control group (n=29) are currently underway.
1:00-2:30pmAxinn 232
Panel 1BDecoding Language & Culture
Chair: Sayaka Abe, Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies
Shawna Shapiro, Associate Professor, Writing and LinguisticsCritical Language Awareness: What is it? Why do we need it?    
This presentation provides an introduction to and overview of Critical Language Awareness (CLA), an educational approach that focuses on intersections of language, identity, power, and privilege. We will first briefly trace the emergence of CLA as an intellectual and educational movement in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. We will then review key tenets and key concepts of CLA. We will discuss applications of CLA to a variety of aspects of life and learning, including global citizenship, anti-racism, critical media literacy, and even our interpersonal relationships. Attendees will come away with deeper understanding of how they can attend more closely and critically to language in their daily lives.
Brandon Baird, Associate Professor, Luso-Hispanic Studies and LinguisticsMayan Language Revitalization and the Scientific Benefits of Bilingualism   
This talk will detail the collaboration between Middlebury College faculty and students and native speakers of Mayan languages in an ongoing language revitalization campaign in the Mayan township of Nahualá, Guatemala. The campaign is a cross-disciplinary effort that promotes Mayan language usage via the cultural significance of the languages for the Maya and the scientific benefits of being bilingual. Specifically, this talk will discuss how Middlebury College faculty and students used psychological, neuroscience, and linguistic research to help dispel polemic myths about speaking more than one language, especially if one is a stigmatized indigenous language. During this campaign, the aforementioned individuals promoted Mayan languages in local schools, hung bilingual posters in local stores and around town, and produced a bilingual national radio program that has, to date, been re-aired 12 times.
Mark Saltveit, Circulation Supervisor, Davis Family LibraryRediscovering Two Ancient Palindromes   
I’ve rediscovered two forgotten examples of the famous SATOR palindromic word square, both from the British Isles: a 12th c. manuscript fragment (British Library MS Egerton 3323, fol. 7r & 14r, which I examined in person), and an old published description of a Welsh stone carved with the original Roman version of the square that begins with ROTAS instead of SATOR. Each of these has a uniquely colorful place in the rich history of this mysterious word square. Furthermore, the manuscript fragment opens a window into the dramatic story of the “bibliomaniac” 19th century book collector, Sir Thomas Phillips, who formerly owned it, while the stone points to the remarkable history of Welsh antique and medieval history – including the nearby Bangor Illtyd (“”Illtyd’s college””) founded by St. Illtud in 508 CE, which survived for over a thousand years. By the time Oxford and Cambridge were founded, this early university – already rebuilt once by then, after an attack by Viking raiders — was nearing the end of its life.
2:45-4:15pmAxinn 232
Panel 2ACreation out of Chaos
Chair: Jason Mittell, Professor of Film & Media Culture
Jeff Buettner, Christian A. Johnson Professor of MusicSinging Out of a Pandemic   
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a sudden halt to much of organized group singing globally. Choirs, historically characterized by community building and togetherness, became hazardous occupations given the relatively large amount of aerosol dispersion involved in singing. Yet throughout the first year and a half of pandemic college life, College Choir students regrouped and retooled to sing safely and sustain their sense of community, including measures that continue in this academic year. Following strict health and safety protocol and with substantial aid of technology, Jeff Buettner taught group singing in classes, and the College Choir auditioned new singers, rehearsed, and produced multimodal performances throughout the year, safely. Jeff’s singing courses and the College Choir engaged remotely to preserve the dynamic aspect of community outreach in vocal ensemble activities. In a presentation that is in parts performance, research, and reflection, Jeff Buettner will share several video examples and discuss various issues that affected singing communities in the past year, including what worked and what didn’t, how students feel about things now, and what is changing as life with a pandemic continues to develop. Jeff will discuss short- and long-term effects and outlooks regarding large group singing, including student, alumni, and community perspectives.
Linus Owens, Associate Professor, SociologyBecoming an adult: trick or treat?   
Halloween is increasingly an adult holiday, but at the same time traditional meanings of adulthood are disappearing. This research uses Halloween as a lens to study new forms of emerging adulthood, placing these developments in economic and cultural contexts and comes to a startling conclusion: emerging adults are themselves (social) monsters, which is why they find a home on the holiday celebrating monsters. Halloween is no longer the inversion of everyday life, but rather it is everyday life turned up to eleven. With the holiday looming, this is the perfect time to explore the sociology of Halloween, emerging adulthood, and the monsters revealed when they intersect.
David Miranda Hardy, Associate Professor of Film and Media CultureThe Swim Lesson, a feature  film
Professor Miranda Hardy presents the first pages of his new script “The Swim Lesson,” read by Middlebury faculty & student actors: Mara James postponed her career to raise her daughters, allowing her husband to become a professor at an elite liberal arts college. After discovering he hid a sexual misconduct complaint from a student, Mara develops a secret relationship with his accuser to understand what happened. The secret jeopardizes her family, her opportunity to restart her career, and even her own identity.
2:45-4:15pmAxinn 229
Panel 2BAnalyzing Patterns
Chair: Caitlin Myers, Professor of Economics
Obie Porteous Assistant Professor, EconomicsResearch Deserts and Oases: Evidence from 27,000 Economics Journal Articles on Africa   
The first two decades of the 21st century have seen an increasing number of peer-reviewed journal articles on the 54 countries of Africa by both African and non-African economists. I document that the distribution of research across African countries is highly uneven: 45% of all economics journal articles and 65% of articles in the top five economics journals are about five countries accounting for just 16% of the continent’s population. I show that 91% of the variation in the number of articles across countries can be explained by a peacefulness index, the number of international tourist arrivals, having English as an official language, and population. The majority of research is context-specific, so the continued lack of research on many African countries means that the available evidence base for local policy-makers is much smaller in these countries. The idea for this project came out of my Economics of Africa class at Middlebury. Five Middlebury student research assistants have worked on the project.
Sarah Stroup Associate Professor, Political ScienceThe Stories They Tell: NGO Mission Statements and Authority    International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) play an increasingly important role in global governance. Without coercive capacities, INGOs must build their authority to be heard,and ideally, influential in global governance. However, we know little about how INGOs build and defend their authority in practice. We argue that mission statements characterize how INGOs make authority claims to their audiences. Drawing on existing research on INGOs and global governance, we identify five dimensions of authority: accountability, representativeness, effectiveness, legality, and universal morality. We analyse the mission statements of 11 leading INGOs (high status) and 46 other INGOs (low status) from 2003 and 2013. We find that leading INGOs are more likely to emphasize accountability and legality while other INGOs are more likely to highlight representativeness. Our findings open up an exciting research agenda to study how authority relationships are constructed in global civil society.
Sayaka Abe Assistant Professor, Japanese StudiesFOOD IS FORCE: Japanese expressions of shun no aji ‘tastes in season’    Expressions of taste have drawn much attention from linguists and cognitive scientists in recent years. Wine critics frequently use motion verbs to describe tastes (e.g., ‘wine that creeps up sideways’), and sensual metaphors are often found in upscale restaurants’ menus (e.g., ‘seductively seared foie gras’). These depictions show how food/tastes can be spatially and psychologically dynamic, as construed by writers. In this light, I examine Japanese texts that describe food or tastes in season (or shun no aji), to see if this type of dynamism is present, and if so, what it looks like as manifested in language. My data from online columns about foods in season reveals multiple patterns in which a certain taste and another taste/taster interact, by (figuratively or psychologically) imposing or giving in to one another (e.g., ‘source pushing the meat’s flavor forward’; salt pulling out unami from the meat). This research is built upon a theory of language that uses the concept of “force,” which is understudied, especially in non-Indo-European languages.
4:30-6:00pmAxinn 229
Panel 3AScience & Society
Chair: Kristy Bright, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Greg Pask, Assistant Professor, BiologySmelly Questions: Decoding Olfaction in Ants    Who runs the world? Ants! Ants represent one of the most successful animals on land, largely thanks to their colony-based social structure. But social living requires effective communication among all the individuals. Here, I’ll discuss our lab’s research into understanding the complex chemical communication system in ants, and how it can extend to insects at large.
AJ Vasiliou,
Associate Professor, Chemistry
Sulfur Chemistry: So Much More than a Pleasant Smell 
Energy production is one of the most challenging issues of modern times. Energy usage, climate change, economic activity and national security are intimately linked. Fossil fuels are still the most widely used source of energy in the world, accounting for 79% of the world energy share, half of which comes from petroleum. As global energy demand is expected to rise 50% by 2050, alternate forms of energy such as biofuels will also need to increase. In order to obtain fuels that will burn cleanly, sulfur compounds must be removed from gaseous, liquid and solid products.  Sulfur compounds that are left in fuels produce sulfur oxides, such as SO2 when combusted. Combustion emissions of sulfur oxides strongly influence the chemistry of the atmosphere, which adversely affects air quality and human health. Air pollution in the United States is regulated by the Clean Air Act, which enables the EPA to set air quality standards for six criteria of air pollutants, one of which is sulfur
dioxide. Human exposure to the airborne pollutant SO2 has unfavorable effects on immune capable cells and airway responsiveness. The health effects from sulfurous air pollution have been well documented. All population subgroups are affected by SO2, including the most vulnerable: children, adolescents, cardiac and respiratory-compromised individuals, and asthmatics. Raw energy sources such as coal, petroleum and biomass all contain varying quantities of sulfur contaminants that must be removed. Converting raw energy sources into useable liquid fuels is a complicated process involving many steps but two aspects that all methods share are 1) use of heat to break chemical bonds of larger organic molecules into smaller semi-volatile or volatile species and 2) removal of sulfur during the refining process prior to fuel distribution. The thermolysis chemistry of the sulfur compounds encountered in petroleum and biofuels is poorly understood and in some cases completely unknown. The current foundations in this field are based on endpoint chemistry, meaning that the reaction mechanisms have been proposed without direct evidence of radical intermediates. This knowledge gap prevents any progress in refinery cleanup methodology, as current efforts for improving sulfur removal technologies are done with an incomplete picture of the molecular level chemistry.  Our work delivers new foundations to this field by providing complete reaction pathways for important sulfur species. Our findings are used directly for piloting new approaches for cleaning up fuels with the goal of lower sulfur emissions.
Grace Spatafora, Heinz-Given Professor in the Premedical SciencesTargeting SloR: Search for an Anti-Caries Therapeutic at Middlebury College
Streptococcus mutans is the principal causative agent of dental cavities in humans. My research centers on identifying genes that are controlled by an important metalloregulatory protein in S. mutans, called SloR.  We hypothesize that the SloR protein, in response to metal ion limitation in the human oral cavity (ie. between meal times), promotes gene expression that contributes to the formation of dental plaque and tooth decay.  During periods of feast when metal ions are plentiful, however, we propose SloR binding to DNA at so-called SloR-Recognition Elements (SREs) which, in turn, represses virulence gene expression and S. mutans-induced disease.   We used molecular genetic approaches to elucidate the structural organization of the SREs that precede SloR-regulated virulence genes on the S. mutans chromosome.  In addition, we resolved the structure of the SloR protein by X-ray crystallography and characterized its interaction with DNA via cryo-EM and mutational studies.  Recently, we used computational biology to identify druggable binding pockets in the S. mutans SloR protein, and performed virtual ligand screens to generate a comprehensive “”hit list”” of small molecules that specifically target SloR.  We are now investigating the molecules that interact uniquely with the SloR holo-form,  which we propose will stabilize the SloR-SRE interaction and render SloR a hyper-repressor of S. mutans virulence regardless of metal ion availability.   Taken collectively, these investigations can foster development of a small molecule therapeutic (eg. a mouth rinse or dentifrice) that can alleviate or prevent dental cavities.
4:30-6:00pmAxinn 232
Panel 3BReligion & Ritual
Chair: Jim Ralph, Dean of Faculty Development and Research, Rehnquist Professor of American History and Culture
Zohar Gazit, Israel Institute Teaching Fellow, Program of Modern HebrewToo hot to handle? Cremation in Israel    This paper examines a cultural conflict in present-day Israeli society by analyzing the discourse regarding cremation, a controversial manner of disposing of the dead. A uniform rigid model concerning the legitimate manner of handling dead bodies is prevalent in Israel. The vast majority of the Jewish population, including secular Jews, shows conformity to the hegemonic practice, in which religious burial societies are responsible for laying the deceased to rest. However, alternatives have recently been emerging. Based on data that include media sources, websites that address the topic, and parliament discussions, this paper explores the claims and the activities of those who support cremation – e.g., commercial companies and individuals who would rather be cremated than buried – and those who oppose the practice, which is utterly forbidden according to Jewish law. The qualitative analysis reveals that both promoters and objectors strive to fill the void that resides at the core of the issue—a void created by the immediate and complete annihilation of the corpse and the lack of norms regarding a practice that is unfamiliar in the context of the examined society. They do so by recruiting similar resources from a shared cultural reservoir in their framing contest over the meanings attached to cremation. Thus, the contemporary and local practice is connected to the past – cremation of the Holocaust victims – and to the conduct of Jews in other societies. The case study illuminates efforts to maintain hegemony over death-related issues and attempts to undermine prevalent perceptions and practices in contemporary Israel.  
Sebnem Gumuscu, Assistant Professor, Political ScienceDemocracy or Authoritarianism: Islamists in Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia   
Under what conditions do Islamist parties commit to democracy? Do their commitments change after coming to power? Why do some adhere to liberal democratic norms while others do not? In this study I explore these questions in a comparative analysis of three Islamist parties, namely the AKP in Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Ennahda in Tunisia, all of which have come to power in free and fair elections. Relying on extensive evidence collected through in-depth interviews official documents, and participant observation in multiple field trips to all three countries, I find that intra-party dynamics play a central role in shaping Islamist parties’ democratic commitments.
Ellery Foutch, Assistant Professor, American StudiesRelic Furniture and Memorial Bells: Constructing and Recasting History     In 1884, Vermonter Henry L. Sheldon built an eclectic “relic chair,” utilizing twenty-five different woods in its construction: each spindle comes from an artifact of local, national, or historical significance, including the spire Middlebury’s Congregational church, a beam from Old Ironsides, a scrap of Connecticut’s “Charter Oak,” and California redwood. The resulting chair works as a miniature museum, displaying objects that Sheldon found worthy of preservation. Yet like many forms of collecting and bricolage, this act was both destructive and constructive: it required cutting fragments from historic sites or artifacts, even as Sheldon worked to bring the pieces together into a new, coherent whole. For his 1893 “Memorial Bell,” Sheldon similarly assembled an amalgamation of 120 metal “articles,” including historical coins and metal filings: from church bells, a musket from the Battle of Bunker Hill, a sword from the Battle of Bennington, and the key from the Vermont State Bank. A bell foundry in Connecticut melted these down, casting them into an eight-inch gong bell; remaining scrap was transformed into souvenir buttons. Practices of relic-collecting and recomposition complicate today’s understandings of historic preservation and commemoration. They call on would-be contributors to take part in the fragmentation—if not destruction—of historic artifacts in the interest of creating new, historically-evocative objects. By cutting apart or melting down, Sheldon’s work with relic furniture and bell-making sought to reconstruct and recast history and historical memory, prompting questions about the historical contingencies of memorialization and institution-building.

6:00 pm Reception for presenting and attending faculty & staff hosted by Provost Jeff Cason        McCullough Tent

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